"THERE'S no sugarcoating it," President Obama said of the problems with registering online for the Affordable Care Act. "The website has been too slow, people have been getting stuck during the application process. . . . And there's no excuse for the problems, and these problems are getting fixed."
Despite the president's assurances, it's hard for people to have patience when already there is so much confusion about the law. Add in the fearmongering by the law's opponents, and it's understandable why a lot of Americans may think the whole thing is a failure.
I've been writing a series of columns trying to explain various aspects of the opening of the exchanges. As part of my reporting, I've been following one Maryland employer in his effort to get health insurance through the exchange for the staff at his dental practice. He's eager to see what new options he has.
But his hope is waning.
"So far I have only registered," said Herbert Egert, managing partner of Affinity Dental Associates. "It took me seven or eight visits just to get registered. I am glad that our current insurance contract lasts through March 31."
Egert says he is willing to wait. But he's frustrated.
And, obviously, he is not alone. So let me try to address some concerns and provide tips for working around the computer glitches.
First, ignore the hype and the wild claims of the ACA's failure. If you already have health insurance, you don't need to do anything. If you don't, you'll have to have some patience.
* HealthCare.gov is still accessible for you to do some research. Use this time while the government tries to repair the system to learn more about the rules and what's offered. A Gallup poll found that 71 percent of uninsured people said they were "not too familiar" or "not familiar at all" with the exchanges set up to offer coverage.
You can now preview health-care plans and prices before you apply for insurance. Go to HealthCare.gov/find-premium-estimates to get plan information in your area. You only have to answer a few questions to get estimates. However, the prices won't reflect lower costs you may qualify for based on your income and household size.
The administration continues to maintain that many people will qualify for tax credits that will lower what they pay. You won't get a final price quote until you've completed an application.
* There are other ways to apply. You can call 800-318-2596, or you can apply in person by working with a counselor in your area.
You can use the tools available at LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov to find help in your area. You can search by your ZIP code, city or state. The search will then list local organizations with contact information and office hours. If your state is operating its own exchange, you'll be directed to that website. Once redirected to your state's online exchange, look for a link to consumer assistance. The people trained to help you have different titles depending on the group providing the service. So they might be called a navigator, application assister or certified application counselor. Insurance agents and brokers can also help you with your application and choices.
If you see information other than on HealthCare.gov or your state exchange, please be careful that you are dealing with a legitimate organization or insurance agent or broker. If you are unsure, call the toll-free number to verify someone is authorized to help you with the application process.
You can apply by mail by completing a paper application. You can download the application and instructions at HealthCare.gov by searching for "How do I apply for Marketplace coverage?" Although, if I were the administration, I would quickly change the language on the form that says, "Apply faster online." Given the fair criticism about the technical problems, it's not just laughable, but grating to have that wording on the paper form when people have spent hours trying to apply online. Filling out the application, which asks for a lot of information, doesn't mean you have to buy health coverage. Remember, you need to be patient. The paper process will be longer.
* There is concern about the penalty people have to pay if they don't get insurance. Starting next year, individuals and their dependents are required to have minimum essential health insurance unless they qualify for an exemption. The administration has said that if consumers obtain health insurance by March 31, they will not face tax penalties for being uninsured.
I want to hear from you if you try one of the alternative ways to apply for insurance through the exchange. Write to me at email@example.com. In the subject line put "Affordable Care Act." Please include your name, contact information, city and state.